Artist Statement

IN BRIEF:

I am a painter.

I try to write, too, but I don’t think I am very successful with words. The machine said so, too: “The keyword density is 0%, which is too low; the focus keyword was found 0 times.” There you go.
Artist Statement. Artist Statement. Artist Statement. Happy now?

 

A LITTLE SHORTER:

Surrogates and Association

My work deals with the human sense of seeing; I am interested in the human visual experience and connected to that visual memory and how we communicate in images which are based on these.

When we look at our surrounding through our eyes it is being reflected in our brain as images. It is not a reproduction of what we are looking at, but only a reflection of it; it looks the same, but it is not the same, an image is “only” an illusion.
Because of this sensory function we are able to exchange images we have actually seen with surrogates we have artificially created ourselves. This ability to bridge reality and a reflection of it, that must be abstracted, because it is impossible to recreate 100% of our surrounding, has led to the ability to read and write.
With these surrogates we can communicate by bridging time and place and so sharing experiences, making it possible to re/-visit situations that lie in the past or future, inclusive those that did not happen at all, but that we invented intentionally or subconsciously and reflect on them.

Within my lens-based work I am specifically interested in the element of evidence which is added to an image by a camera (even if or because this contradicts our own physical experience, modern cameras being technically advanced producing very different images from human eye-sight) and the various ways in which such images are being used.

 

I am working with self-made puppets (also surrogates) as models because I am interested in the interchangeability between living models and puppets in lens-based images. The difference between a person and a puppet is quite large, but the difference between a photograph of a person and the photograph of a puppet of a person is much smaller, if not insignificant.

Another aspect that has identified itself in my research is the element of time, because it applies in connection with memory, without memory of something we have encountered already (= in the past) we cannot read (= re-cognize) and loose orientation, which we try to regain by association of the unknown information with the known. I am interested in this process.

 

My work is an expression of my personal life experience. For this reason it changes, in particular when I am moving to a new place, as I experience new things that make me see different aspects of life I wasn’t aware of until then. Life experience is very individual and personal and can’t be faked, although art work resulting from it can be faked.
For this reason only I can make the original work in the way I am doing it and vice versa I could not create meaningful work about things that might be more general, fashionable or marketable but are irrelevant to me because I do not have this type of experience.
As an artist I can only hope that enough people come across my work and can find something in it that is personally meaningful to them to validate it.

“I am interested only in the unknown and I work for my own astonishment.” (Roberto Matta)

Josiane Keller - Viola on the beach 4

Josiane Keller “Viola on the beach 4” (2016)

A LITTLE LONGER:

人形 共和国   –  Puppet Republic

What is a man-made image, and why are we creating it?

Humans are one of the few animals with the ability to recognize three dimensional objects depicted in two dimensional images such as photographs, despite the abstraction of scale, color and dimension. For this reason we use 2D images and photographs as media to communicate to each other. By now, in the 21st century, many people have informed their extensive visual memory to a great extent through lens-based images instead of seeing the original. We are able to recognize such images not only on a cognitive but also on an emotional level, to the extent that photographs can trigger emotional reactions in the viewer that otherwise would be only appropriate in juxtaposition with the original, which is linked to our memory, consequently this is one purpose photographs are being created for. In this sense a photograph is a form of substitute for or “puppet” of what it depicts.

Josiane Keller - Viola's bed with Fabienne's photo

Josiane Keller “Viola’s bed with Fabienne’s photo” (2016)

In my work I use self-made puppets as stand-ins for mostly people, but also animals or buildings depicted in photographs and films. I am fascinated by the interchangeability of puppets and their originals in lens based images. I explain this with the fact that also a lens-based image (still photo or film) is a stand-in for or a ‘reflection’ of what it depicts. A reflection of a reflection seems similar enough to a reflection of an original to be taken by the human mind as (almost) identical; both one can be used to (re-)narrate a situation of some sort, and the human mind is able to read it. However, not being the same as the original, yet being able to be exchanged with it, make both a puppet as well as a photograph of a puppet posing instead of a real person a very surreal thing.

Homunculi

My puppets are either entirely or to the greatest extent made from clay, which is an essential material for my work. My original training is as a potter; I feel intimately connected to this material and to me its qualities symbolize those of a human being, particularly important is the alchemy of the firing process, which symbolizes a ‘birthing process’ because it changes the physical qualities of the material clay and my kiln becomes an athanor, an alchemical furnace. This process seems essential to give the puppets the potential of life, as opposed to un-fired clay that to me seems like unborn life: it is there, but it isn’t very strong and won’t last very long in this stage.

My first figures used to be static and made entirely from ceramic, features, hair or clothes painted on with iron oxides; although they did not look very realistic by themselves I attempted creating photographs from them through certain lighting techniques and camera motion that could be confused with photographs of actual live models.
My newer figures have poseable joints, hair and clothes from other materials; in the photographs taken from them it is much more obvious that the depicted characters are puppets, at the same time that I am showing this now openly I am trying to create an illusion of life. I am investigating to what extent the human perception is willing to bridge abstraction in order to identify its surrounding and match it with what it so far has learned makes sense.

I am currently contemplating the question: which one is more sur-real? A duplicate of nature as exact as a clone (“Dolly the sheep”, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1996 – 2003) or rather a puppet so abstracted that it is completely different in every aspect from the original its place it took (the tree trunk as a baby in Jan Švankmajer’s “Otesánek”, 2000)which seems to be the most typical effect of the subconscious: substituting in our minds, for various reasons.

However, using painstakingly detailed miniature work or computer programs in order to recreate nature in small scale seems not to create an effect of “life” but instead an effect of “life-less doll”. Instead exactly the opposite seems to make an image look “real” because taken from something “alive”: creating sort of “mind-gaps” by leaving imperfect details “un-hidden” that only the imagination can close, and it is exactly this process of activating one’s imagination that makes the images come to life.

Particularly in my current project ホテル Hotel (reads: “hotel-hotel”) the puppets have become more characteristic, expressionistic and a theme of indistinct gender boundaries is prominent (most of my puppets have parts of both sexes and are bi-gender or multi-gender), through which this work reminds of the puppets of transgender doll artist Greer Lankton.
But in my case I don’t create puppets for the purpose of making three dimensional small sculptures, instead in order to use them within two dimensional images, creating as well as mimicking existing films and photographs.
A puppet by itself does not seem alive yet, but is rather a vessel for potential life that under certain circumstances can develop there, such as ovaries. This happens either by playing with the puppet, which addresses the NOW, or, strangely so, by depicting it with a camera of some sort, which creates images addressing a MOMENT PASSED.

Same as Czech surrealist Jan Švankmajer states he is using animation as a sort of “NEW ALCHEMY” I am using photography to bring these objects to life, but the moment depicted is a moment that is recently or since a long time ago gone; my interest lies in this kind of transformation: from ‘life-less’ to ‘alive’, like an alchemist creating a homunculus as a reconstruction of life; but whilst natural life is perfect as it is because it constantly heals its own imperfections, man-made (re-)creations are not and are their most life-like when reflecting a stage of flaws. Japanese people think through playing with dolls we communicate with the invisible world. These new puppets I am working with having hair, wearing cloth clothes and accessories and changing pose are charging energy from me interacting with them.

Photography

As opposed to both life performance or static display of the scenes I use the camera like a cinematographer to direct the eyes of the audience which part of the puppet they will see and in what way and what sequence, i.e. bright/dark, in focus/blurry, close-up/distant, at the edge of periphery etc., and the element of repetition, thus mimicking the natural human gaze which creates the illusion the viewer was actively participating from within the scene and interacting with the characters and surrounding on a 1:1 same scale basis, using this tool not only to express my narration visually but also automatically evoking the appropriate emotions.

I am further using my puppet-based images to investigate the meaning that cameras bring to images we are using to communicate. Modern cameras, being machines and technically superior to the human eye, seem to create “proven facts”. Although these may be facts true to physics, they are not true to the actual human visual experience /visual memory, yet the visual information of lens-based images seems preferable, even in the question “how things look like”.

I am since childhood on strongly near sighted (Myopia) and also faceblind (Prosopagnosia), which makes me see categorically. Possibly both conditions contributed to my interest in visual awareness. I am consciously attempting to create images that reflect my actual visual experience as well as visual memory as opposed to making use of the higher developed technical abilities of modern cameras, that means that I deliberately use strong contrast, motion blur and off-balance composition in both my still photography and films.

In photography there are now portfolio reviews popular in which we can get advice on how to “improve” our images. Out of a series of similar pictures, for instance on contact sheets, some are being preferred, as “good pictures”. As opposed to i.e. in painting the photographer seems not to be expected to find a new, original, perhaps even shocking way of depicting images in a way never seen before, instead the opposite seems to be the case: to adjust his work and repeat what others have done before him and fulfill a certain hunger for a specific image the audience seems to have already before the picture has actually been taken.
In photo competitions there are typical categories and typical images seem to win these, even if the image is not staged but apparently taken for the very first time at this particular moment and location by a person who has never visited this place or encountered this situation before. And yet, because the images seem to be so similar (and evidently so popular), this lead me to the question: is it even possible with a conscious mind to create an original image that one has never been seen before, or are we rather subconsciously hunting a certain image that pre-exited in our visual memory and we press the shutter-release at the moment we recognize it?

Photographs also have a fetish position; since they function as stand-ins for the original they depict we display images of celebrities, or rock stars, in our most private rooms (preferably above our beds), even though we do not know the depicted people personally, and imagine a relationship with them, or we even feel an image of an admired person is a reflection of ourselves; even the people depicted are deliberately exposing only a facade life, not their private real life.
The internet and social media have added to this phenomenon. It is possible to create through visual depiction an entire fake identity of oneself or even an invented person, who does not really exist, which the audience finds plausible, because we believe that cameras depict proof.

I am interested in photographs as a means of communication. They can’t, despite general assumption, ever be neutral; instead they are always a multiple statement that shows:

1; what or who is depicted in the picture

2; who took it? and consequently why?

3; to whom will s/he show it, inclusive maybe only to himself (a private, possibly a secret picture)? or to the public, possibly aware of the indirect advertising effect, and the reason behind either decision;

4; who will look at it? Consequently who will obtain it to look at it, possibly more than once, possibly frequently?

Who’s Gaze ?

A large body of my work (“Haifischflossen”) created between 2014-15 depicts women; because I am a woman myself I have been asked many times if this work is to be seen in a feminist context. I am not quite sure at this point, because the topic has many layers, but in first instance I would reply to this “No”, because I am simply reflecting the images that surround me, and there exists an abundance of images of women. (If so, is then a male artist creating images of men called a “masculinist”?) I feel sometimes it is only men who have the power of decision making to determine what or who a “feminist” is, but at the same time a feminist seems to be always a woman. I advocate for self-determination. Once you define something by labeling it, you have set up limits and boundaries to it, but I promote freedom to be who one wants to be.

One male reviewer once wrote about my work “It deals with the male gaze”. This is not correct. For this to be true it would require a constant awareness of the male gaze, but I do not think about that, nor could I confidently be sure of what exactly that is;
I evaluate my own gaze.
Even though for instance many images in my album “Haifischflossen” are based on erotic photography by mostly male photographers, in the chain of people who have looked at these images no matter who (male or female photographer) took it, ultimately I am the last person who looked (and created my own image based on them). Although my own sexual orientation is like that of my puppets, as such not confined by the moral wants and hypocrisies of people who are not part of my intimate life, I am at least in a biological sense female.
So my images can’t be about the “male gaze”, instead my images must be about the “female gaze”. 
In fact, I tend to wrongly assume, my own visual experience was identical to everybody else’s, which ironically is possibly the same mistake this reviewer had assumed. I also wrongly assume my personal sexual awareness is the same as everyone else’s, which is also not true.
Conclusively, realizing both my eye-sight as well as my thought process have to be individual, conclusively my work can be only about “my gaze”.

I am interested in photographs as a means of communication. They can’t, despite general assumption, ever be neutral; instead they always a multiple statement: they show what is depicted in the picture and at the same time something about the person who made the choice taking this particular picture, a third element is if he or she will only look at it himself/herself (a private, possibly a secret picture) or select it to show to the public, possibly aware of the indirect advertising effect, and the reason behind either decision.

Time Machines, the 4th+ Dimension and NOW

Over the last five years I have been working in this technique creating lens-based images of puppets I noticed this work, more so than any other I have worked in before, has often a particularly strong and peculiar effect on the audience, it seems to trigger stronger associations than i.e. other paintings or photography I created in the past, some people acted almost possessive over this work, as if it was their own, not created by someone else. I have been thinking about this phenomena and finally come to the conclusion the reason seems to be it triggers their own memories, and through this mental interaction with it it becomes indeed their own.

The difference between a 3 dimensional object and a lens-based image of a 3 dimensional object is TIME, and TIME is possibly the most important aspect in this work. Possibly it is the element of TIME that determines lens-based work as 4 dimensional at least, but if we imagine “PAST” and “FUTURE” with help of a geometrical model of i.e. a cube, we conclude TIME is not linear and has to consist of at least 5 dimensions, the “NOW” being a shared point between past and future, and NOW being no real fix point, but possibly only an imaginary point of our subjective awareness. One resulting question is: can NOW being subjective to the individual then be shared between two or more creatures? Perhaps the only situation that comes close to this is a mutual sexual orgasm between two creatures.
Further we have to conclude there must be at least 6 dimensions; but once we imagine past and present as a geometrical model those we realize, it must be more, an infinitive number of dimensions mirroring each other, that TIME consists of, but under normal circumstances we always experience only one of them: NOW.

In particular: the 3 dimensional object exists in the presence, whilst the photographic image of it may also exist in the presence, but shows the object as it existed in the past because the photographic image is a form of imprint, stamp, or preserved mirror image like a fossil of how something looked like at the moment of taking the photo; or in case of a live camera as it exists possibly at the same time but at a different location from the image of it. Perhaps that is the reason why lens-based images work as time machines, so do memories. We can travel in time and place by imagination as long as we remember, but when we lose our memories we are disconnected from that ability.
Lens-based images are a good catalyst for lost memories, we remember and we recognize. We are dependent on re-cognition to establish a sense of what it means to be who we are, our identity as a mirror of us and our path back. As young children we start to develop a sense of being from scratch, the less aware we are of ourselves the easier it seems at that point to move forwards because we accumulate identity. But once we understand ourselves as being creatures and then lose our memories it seems much harder to keep moving forwards, at that point, usually as adults, we seem to stop accumulating new knowledge and need the ability to travel back in time by memory to keep our sense of identity as we established it. Without it we slow down and seem to stop without going forwards or backwards, we forget who we are and our identity vanishes, which means: we seem to vanish, even if our bodies are still around functioning, because our self-awareness is based on experience, and experience is based on memories.

Whilst physically time is universal and (probably?) omni-present, in our awareness time and place are indivisibly connected, there is only one NOW, the one we experienced ourselves. This topic is symbolized in the Japanese fairy tale Urashima Taro, a story I grew up with and which I have been working on in various ways since at least 2009. The hero leaves a place and spends time at a different place underwater, by enjoying himself in a different life he forgets his origin; suddenly he remembers and wishes to go back, only for a short moment to check on his old mother; his new partner tells him if he leaves NOW he can never return, but he pleads to go anyways; when he returns to his home village he remembers his roots, but time there has not stopped during his absence as it has in his awareness, in fact the seemingly brief moment of not thinking about his old life lasted 400 years and he can never return to his old home anymore, because time has passed; at the same time he can’t return to his new home in the ocean either; he opens the magic box containing the time he missed on land and immediately dies falling into a small heap of dust. (In another version of the story he shape shifts into a crane, that in Japanese mythology live 10.000 years, and so gains the ability to at an indefinite point in the future to be reunited with his lover, a turtle, who in Japanese mythology is said to live 100.000 years.) We can only be at one NOW during one moment.

“Nothing sorts out memories from ordinary moments. It is only later that they claim remembrance, when they show their scars.”

(Chris Marker)

Presentation and Audience

In many exhibitions the actual work seems to be at best of secondary importance, more emphasize is given on the social function of ‘the gallery exhibition as a meeting point’ for the visitors, regardless the work on display.
This does not seem effective in my case, because the work I am trying to create, same as the work I want to see made by others, is complex and needs concentration to be taken in, in that case I would rather suggest organizing an event such like a picnic without involving any art work.
In case of a theatre play, a film or a book this phenomena is not the case, where each audience member individually is opening up to the work and taking it in, deciding for him-/herself if it was good or bad in each own’s personal opinion.

Inspired by the exhibitions of visual artist Yoshitomo Nara, Japanese puppet performances and various experimental film makers I have eventually understood the presentation of my work has to be an essential part of it, because I consider my work as as form of a dialog that is incomplete without the audience mentally participating, who by doing so completes my work and delivers the missing part of the dialog. If the work is not seen by an audience it seems in my case, at the point in time, unfinished.
For this reason I have started to present my work in form of installations, books and live film/slide-show presentations, these being media where the audience is more inclined to taking a risk to open up to it and intentionally SEE the work and thus allow being touched and (a little bit, anyways,) changed by it.

 

Due to the vast output of work and consequently changing insights I am updating this site regularly to limit the otherwise overwhelming amount of material and to match the actual stage of my interest and concerns. If you are interested in older work that is no longer up or wish to have more information, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

 

Josiane Keller - Chiaki after the abortion

Josiane Keller “Chiaki after the abortion” (2016)

 

DISCLAIMER:

“An artist should always bite the hand that feeds him – but not too hard.” (Nam June Paik)

As any artist I am depended on promotion and I am glad if you find my work worthy to review it; you are welcome to write whatever you like, but please stick to some basic journalistic ethic, as it applies just as much to good art journalism.

If you write a review of a show of mine you can of course write whatever you like (and I do hope you like it). If you want to feature my stuff without having seen a specific show it would be possibly easier if you let me know of your intentions as then I can send you actual material. If you notify me of your review I can say ‘thank you!’ and promote your article on my own platforms, otherwise I may not even be knowing that your review about me is out there.

I am still a fan of old-fashioned interviews, if you are as well this can be recorded over the phone, in person or in written questionnaires. If you can at all help yourself please do not scrape content from my website or other places and construct an imaginary interview from it that never took place, complete with added quotation marks. This makes me lose faith in THE ROLLING STONE INTERVIEWS, among other things.
If you like to write your piece in interview form we should talk in one form or another.

All work I create, images as well as texts are my own and copyrighted unless labeled otherwise and may not be reproduced or republished without my prior permission in writing.

Thank you very much indeed for your attention and your interest, please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions!

Josiane Keller, Aug 2017